Video Game Spotlight: A Hero’s Sacrifice

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

~Philippians 4:8

In the last chapter of The Hero and the Dragon: Building Christian Character through Fantasy Fiction, I recognized the fact that many secular stories, movies, and games contain wonderful, virtuous elements – even if the source itself is not “Christian”.  I recently discovered one such example in a rather surprising place: the video game series of “Halo”.  I certainly would not say that these games are something I would promote for the development of Christian character in young people, since the theme of the series is violent combat (although against clearly evil, non-human threats) and some of the characters use language that is not exactly Christ-like (although this improves throughout the series).  However, despite these shortcomings, there is a shining star in the midst of these games that provides an incredible example of faithfulness, hope, patience, endurance, humility, and a willingness to sacrifice everything for those around him – even those who hate him.

The main character of the series is known as Master Chief.  Only a few know him by his real name and officer number: John 117.  This is our first glimpse of the hero behind the mask in this series.  John 1:17 in the Bible says, “ For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  The alien forces who threaten mankind in this series are known as “The Covenant”.  While we know that the old covenant under the Law of Moses could promise only death for sinful man, it was Jesus Christ who saved us by overcoming sin, death and the devil through His death and resurrection, establishing a new covenant through His blood.  Halo players quickly surmise that Master Chief is the only hope humanity has against the alien threat which promises destruction for all mankind.  When he appears on the scene, the hopeless, demoralized, embattled troops of earth know that with him, there is life and hope.

Master Chief is never once arrogant or proud, despite knowing that he is all that stands between human beings and utter extinction.  He moves steadily onward, never neglecting his duty for our sake.  In John 11:7, Jesus turns to His disciples and tells them that the time has come for him to return to Judea.  They try to prevent Him, reminding Him that His enemies are waiting there to kill Him.  But the Son of God knows that His path leads to Jerusalem and Golgotha, and nothing will stand the way of His accomplishing the mission for which He was sent.  Likewise, Master Chief is marked by a character of pressing ever onward, even when his path means certain death for himself.  No matter the cost, he will complete his mission to save humanity.

There are so many rich elements that we could connect with as Christians in this story that I suspect someone on the game’s writing staff must have been a Christian.  A new threat is introduced soon into the game, a vicious, all-consuming race of parasites known as “The Flood”.  The key to humanity’s survival from this new threat lies in a hidden place called – you guessed it – “The Ark”.

As Master Chief travels on through the series and resolves each crisis toward humanity in turn, many look to him for hope in the darkest of times, trusting him to save them as they know only he can.  However, there are those who doubt him.  In fact, there are even those who hate him.  They reject him as the hero who will save mankind and even seek to get rid of him.  His response?  He fights with all the more determination to save those who have spurned him.

For this Good Friday Video Game Spotlight, I want to present my readers with a description of a scene that I think you will recognize.  The forces of evil have gathered thickly upon a bleak hill outside a city.  It appears the battle has turned against our Hero.  As his body is lifted for all to see, his followers cry out in despair.  How can this be?  He was our only hope, the only one who could save us!  As they gaze upon his lifeless form, all courage vanishes.  Some beat the ground in hopeless rage.  Others flee in terror now that their annihilation is certain, pursued closely by the monsters who seek to devour them.  Some simply hang their heads in anguish and await the inevitable end.  From the host of evil, a triumphant tumult arises.  The Hero is defeated.

Or is he?

Click here instead if you have a few minutes and want the full experience.

Gentleness – The Right Way to Fight

“Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5)

The Sword of the Spirit is the perfect weapon with which we can fight the evil in our world.  But even armed with such a magnificent sword, careless, clumsy warriors can sometimes hurt themselves or hinder and damage the cause for which they fight.

Paul’s reminder in Philippians that “The Lord is near” ought to inspire us to fight with both great care and a sense of urgency.  In one sense, the Lord is near to us physically and spiritually at all times.  While this is a great comfort in our distress and in the thick of battle, it is also exactly the reminder that we sometimes need when thwarted and frustrated in our attempts to spread the Gospel and combat the wickedness in our world.  When we lose our patience, when our sense of peace is diminished, when the joy has gone out of our ministry…at these times we may not realize that fact that we are under heavy fire from Satan, who is trying to undermine our witness and draw us into sin.  Remembering that God is close at hand both gives us the courage to stand boldly and gently, while also holding us accountable to our Heavenly Father for the words and actions we employ in His service.

The Lord is also near in the sense that He is coming soon, and the fervor of our spiritual battle ought to reflect that fact.  He could return at any moment, and the threat of death constantly surrounds all who dwell in this fallen world.  This is a reminder of how important it is for us to fight urgently and pray fervently for those who do not know Jesus or the saving power of His grace.  Because our emotions can sometimes lead us into despair and sin – even as we fight to spread the Gospel promise – God reminds us to do everything in the spirit of His own peace and gentleness.  We can learn to do this from Jesus and His words: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

God makes gentleness a vital part of our training for spiritual warfare, both in our witness of the Gospel and in our service to one another.  His instructions are clear; we must employ gentleness when wielding the other weapons of faith if we are to be effective and minimize our “collateral damage”:

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1)

Arming a warrior for combat is about more than just putting a weapon in his hands.  Training is a necessary part of the equipping process, both for the protection of the warrior and to ensure his combat effectiveness.  God our Commander has given us excellent weapons of spiritual perfection, and in His grace He thoroughly prepares us for the dangers that lie on the battlefield by teaching us how to use these weapons in the way that will best serve and honor Him.  The gentleness that comes from peace in Christ will guard and protect our hearts and minds from temptation as we move forward into battle with the Gospel of salvation.

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.” (Titus 3:1-2)

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me true gentleness through Your peace as I proclaim the Gospel and minister to my neighbors.  Guard and defend my heart against all anger, wrath, impatience, cruelty, and malice; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Kindness – Ready, Aim, Fire!

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

While Christians can take courage knowing that God has bestowed upon them the most excellent spiritual armor, we also ought to be mindful of the fact that evil often comes thoroughly defended and fortified as well.  So let’s talk for a little bit about an offensive weapon that God has armed us with – one that can pierce the shell of darkness with a concentrated demonstration of pure love, penetrating deep into the hearts of those we seek to serve.

When trying to touch the hearts of unbelievers or fellow Christians with whom we are at odds, we are often met with thick walls and heavy armor.  Envy, rage, malice, suspicion, doubt, fear, hatred, and unbelief – all of them are weapons of darkness that hold protective qualities of their own; measures to “protect” the host against the Gospel message or against spiritual unity and cooperation.  Sometimes, before we can witness to these individuals or render service to them, we must break down the barriers that Satan has erected between us through his clever use of worldly motives or our own sinfulness.

Kindness is the battering ram of love.  It is the armor-piercing arrow that can cleave Satan’s defenses and allow our love, our service, and our witness to enter the heart of the one before us.  Sometimes our kind words and deeds will need to be showered upon a person in a prolonged barrage as we spiritually lay siege to their hearts.  It may be days, months, or even years before we see their defenses fall, allowing us to come into their lives with God’s love (and ours).  Other times, a single act of kindness may be the silver bullet that shatters the barrier erected between us, opening the door to a relationship of service and evangelism.

Thankfully, the power to use this incredible weapon does not come from within our own sinful hearts – it comes from God.  It is the power of God’s love through Christ Jesus that enables us to forgive others in our hearts and pour our love and kindness upon them despite lingering feelings of tension or resentment.  If kindness is a battering ram, it is God’s power that pushes it; if an arrow, He is the bow and the hand that draws the string.  All we have to do is take aim.

We all know people who need to hear the Gospel but resist any attempt at witness.  We all have people in our lives with whom we just don’t seem to get along very well.  Pray to the Father that He would empower you through the love and forgiveness you have in Christ Jesus to show kindness to these people today.  Pray that He would soften their hearts to receive your entreaties.  Then take aim and let the Holy Spirit do His work as the kindness you shower upon them removes Satan’s defenses from between you, opening the door for witness and Christian partnership like never before.

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:16-18)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, empower me through Your love to forgive my neighbors.  Provide opportunities for me to show kindness unto them, demonstrating Your love by my words and deeds; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

The Centurion – Just Say the Word

“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8)

If anyone in Jesus’ day understood the meaning of authority, it would be an officer in the Roman military.  Perhaps it was the centurion’s position as a subordinate of more powerful commanders that gave him the sense of humility to confess his unworthiness before Jesus.  While it would have been easy for someone of his rank to become conceited and arrogant, he recognized that there were many others in the hierarchy of power who were above him – and he saw clearly that Jesus was over them all.  Being confronted with the kind of authority that was over his commander, his general, and even his emperor, the centurion is convicted of his own guilt and publicly professes that he is not fit to be in the Lord’s presence.

And yet, the centurion can relate to Jesus’ authority in one respect – he knows what it is to command: “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9).  The centurion knows that his orders will be followed swiftly and obediently by his men.  But he also knows that his own authority has its limits.  While he can order his servant to “Do this” and the servant will obey, it won’t do any good for him to tell the servant, “Rise,” “Be healed,” or “Your sins are forgiven.”  Only the Word of power spoken by Jesus has the authority to accomplish these tasks.

It’s strange how the Roman centurion treats Jesus with the utmost respect and humility, while we ourselves often feel like we’re pretty big stuff – like we’ve been such wonderful Christian people that God owes it to us to grant this favor or answer that prayer the way we want.  In fact, this was the very mindset of those who came to Jesus on behalf of the centurion: “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”  But the centurion himself rebutted: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you” (Luke 7:4-7).  Like the centurion, we need to know our place.  We make humble requests, not haughty demands.

But the greatest thing we can learn from this Roman centurion lies in his model of faith for us.  Although he knows that he is completely unworthy of Jesus’ love and healing power, he appeals to Him in faith.  He trusts Jesus’ power so much that he is satisfied by His Word alone.  While many in his position would have expected the honor of such a dignified celebrity’s personal appearance, the centurion is blessed with faith that believes the power of Jesus’ Word without the necessity of seeing Him in person. (John 20:29)

The centurion’s faith – a faith which believed the promise of the Word without signs and without making demands – was able to amaze even the very Son of God.  As we are convicted of our own guilt and unworthiness through the Law, we can approach God for healing and cleansing from sin with humility and penitence.  As we trust in the promise of forgiveness through the Word, the Spirit works in our hearts to produce this same amazing faith – a most gracious gift from our merciful God!

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the meekness and humility to accept the censure of Your Law and the faith to humbly trust the promise of Your Gospel, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Malachi – Sounding the Wake-up Call

“My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name.  True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips.  He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.”  (Malachi 2:5-6)

Tell me when this starts to sound familiar:

The people of God had become lukewarm and complacent.  They felt like worship and duty to God were a burden; a task to be performed without love or joy.  They gave to Him out of obligation, but only the dregs and the leftovers.  They complained that God did not reward them for their “faithfulness” and only prospered the wicked.  They longed for God to come with fire and judgment to destroy the “sinners.”  They no longer respected God’s servants, but despised the priesthood.  They turned to pagan peoples and culture for happiness and fulfillment rather than abiding steadfastly in the One True God.  They quarreled and broke faith even with their spouses, endangering the Godly upbringing of their youth.

Many churches today are stressing the importance of “relevance” in their ministries.  That’s fine and good, but if you cannot see the relevance in the plain and simple Word of God, then something is seriously wrong.  I’m afraid that there are those who turn to other more worldly sources because they feel that Scripture is “dated” and “out-of-touch” with people today.  And yet, is there a single item in the above paragraph with which our society cannot perfectly relate?

Malachi made it quite “relevant” to the Israelites, as well as to us today: When we regard worship as a “burden” and offer to God only the leftovers, we dishonor His name and show a lack of love, trust, and devotion to Him.  When we despise God’s Word and those who proclaim it, we can’t complain when the world despises and humiliates us.  When we break faith with God and abandon His ways, how can we expect to reap the fruits of abundant life that He promises as a result of following Him in faith?  And God certainly will come to judge the sinners; so beware!  Our hypocrisy itself accuses us, for we have fallen far short of the Law’s requirements: “Now implore God to be gracious to us.  With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?” (Malachi 1:9)

The question for our churches today is, how can we make “the rest of the story” relevant as well?  Will we, like the faithful remnant in Jerusalem, turn to God in repentance and place our lives at the mercy of His promise?  “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.  A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.  ‘They will be mine,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him” (Malachi 3:16-17).

Thankfully, our Heavenly Father has a Son who has served Him perfectly, living a life that fulfilled the fullness of the Law and dying on our behalf.  In compassion for Jesus Christ’s sake, God will spare us even though we have flouted His commands, neglected His worship, broken faith with each other, doubted His justice, and wished for vengeance upon the “ungodly.”  We revere His name by trusting in His mercy and placing our faith in the promise of salvation through forgiveness by His grace!

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.  And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for the many ways in which I fall short of honoring You.  Help me to put You first in my life by glorifying You in all that I do and by serving my neighbor.  Bring me at last to be with You forever for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Daniel – The Repentant Leader

“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9).

Daniel is often honored as one of the greatest warriors of the faith in the Old Testament, and for good reason.  He faithfully served and honored God even under pagan rulers who were hostile to believers.  He turned the hearts of some of the most powerful leaders on earth toward God and paved the way for the Gospel to be spread quickly and received with faith even in foreign lands – think of the magi from the east and many, many others who would remember the God of Israel when the apostles spread the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection abroad.  He endured extreme tests of faith, even being cast into a den of ravenous lions, and was honored by God and angels as “one high esteemed.”

But more than anything else, Daniel deserves to be called a hero of the faith because of his keen understanding of the duty of spiritual warriors – to call sinners to repentance and salvation.  Daniel’s prayer in chapter nine is perhaps one of the most beautiful passages in the whole Bible.  Feeling the weight of sin under which God’s people are suffering, Daniel falls before God and pleads for mercy:

                “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong.  We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.  We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name…[we] are covered with shame because we have sinned against you.  The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him…Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant…We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.  O Lord, listen!  O Lord, forgive!  O Lord, hear and act!  For your sake, O my God, do not delay…” (excerpts from Daniel 9:4-19; read the whole passage there!)

Daniel’s wonderful prayer echoes in our churches today.  In keeping with the true line of faith heroes, our pastors and leaders turn our hearts to God – not only for temporal relief, but especially for forgiveness and cleansing.  Daniel knew that earthly and eternal salvation rested with God alone, and that the merciful Lord will not ignore the pleas of those who fall before Him.  In fact, Gabriel even tells Daniel, “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given” (Daniel 9:23).

Like Daniel, we serve God best when we cry out to Him with contrition and repentance for ourselves and on behalf of our people.  The greatest leadership we can provide is the act of ultimate humility; to confess our sins and iniquities and place ourselves in God’s merciful hands.  When we hear the promise of forgiveness and salvation through God’s Word, we can be at peace with God.  We are strengthened in faith and enabled to rise and glorify Him through works of love:

“Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength.  ‘Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,’ he said.  ‘Peace!  Be strong now; be strong.’” (Daniel 10:18-19)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise You for Your unending mercy and love for sinners like me!  Bend the hearts of all mankind to turn to You in repentance, that they may receive strength through faith unto life everlasting; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Nathan – Boldly Confronting Evil

“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!…Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?’” (2 Samuel 12:7a,9)

“Don’t kill the messenger!”

This expression has become a common saying because all too often those in authority do kill the messenger, either literally or figuratively.  These words have no doubt gone through the head of anyone and everyone who has had to approach a powerful person with bad news or in any sort of confrontational situation.  Carrying out this task takes a great deal of courage – perhaps even more so than squaring off against giants or attacking enormous armies.

Nathan was sent by God to deliver a terrible message.  King David, the most powerful man in the land (and perhaps on Earth at the time), needed to be told that he had sinned against the Lord.  Nathan told him so, and none too gently.  He faithfully and boldly carried out the Lord’s instructions to confront and rebuke evil, despite the fact that his head might well become part of the palace’s exterior décor as a result.

Standing up for God’s truth in opposition to powerful men and women can be extremely challenging.  Christians often struggle with fear and doubt over the consequences of doing so: “Will I lose my job?  Will I lose my freedom?  Will I lose my life?”  Many times, it seems easier to just “go along and get along” rather than sticking your neck out and losing your head by humbly pointing out that your boss has given immoral, unethical instructions – or that a government or political leader has despised God’s Word by doing evil.  These people have authority over us; authority given by God.  But the ultimate authority in our lives, and theirs, must always be the Word of God.

Not only was King David a very powerful man, he was also well loved by the people and – all in all – typically obedient to God’s Word.  While this makes confrontation easier in some ways (he responds in repentance and contrition rather than anger and retribution), it can be very difficult to accuse otherwise “good people” of doing evil in God’s sight.  Because we respect them for their past and want to protect their reputations, it can be easy to look the other way while they hurt others, harm themselves, and dishonor God.

Like Nathan, we must sometimes confront those in authority with God’s Law.  We need to remind the world of the awful consequences of sin.  We need to call people to repentance and invite them to live once again in God’s precepts.  Then we, like Nathan, must also proclaim to them God’s love and forgiveness.  Though there may be earthly consequences for the sins they have committed, Jesus’ death atones for their guilt and brings life and renewal.

Nearly every one of us is in a position of authority in one aspect or another.  Ask God for the humility to meekly accept the censure of God-fearing people who confront you with your own sins.  Like David, we can humbly confess, “I have sinned against the Lord,” and hear God’s reply; “The Lord has taken away your sin.  You are not going to die” (2 Samuel 12:13).  Although our sin warrants eternal physical and spiritual death, the High King of Heaven has pardoned our guilt.  Therefore let us ever walk with Him, striving daily to more closely follow His commands.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the courage to stand up for Your Word, even when it may be difficult or dangerous to do so.  Give me the joy of proclaiming Your forgiveness and salvation to all those who come before You in faith.  Give me the grace to humbly acknowledge my sin before others and to look to You alone for redemption, through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Amen.

Gideon – An Unworthy Hero

“Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.  Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14)

It can be depressing for God’s warriors to realize just how utterly weak they really are.  Living under the curse of sin, we constantly fail in our commitments and undertakings.  We repeatedly question and doubt God.  We daily fall into temptation and sin, displaying hypocrisy and hatred more than love and joy.  We try to stand in our own strength and take matters into our own hands, continually being shamed and humiliated by our own lack of faith and spiritual weaknesses.  At the end of the day, it’s hard to feel much like a hero of the faith.

But the good news is, you’re exactly the kind of hero that God is looking for.  He seems to have this thing for using the small, the weak, the flawed, and the “unlikely” to achieve great deeds for Him.  Gideon, one of the most renowned heroes of the faith in all the Bible, was no exception.  He initially rejects the Lord’s calling, using his own weakness as an excuse.  He accuses God of abandoning His people (not vice-versa) and blames Him for their present misery.  Even after the Lord clearly manifests Himself, Gideon demands multiple signs before he’ll believe (God goes the extra mile and gives Him a “bonus” sign the night before the attack).  To top it off, he tries to hide his worship of the true God by sacrificing to Him under the cover of darkness rather than in the sight of his fellow men.

Despite all his shortcomings, Gideon achieves spectacular things through God’s help.  One thing can certainly be said of Gideon: he knows his own unworthiness and isn’t afraid to declare it before God and men.  He gives God the credit for his success, and even gives away his own share of glory for the sake of keeping the peace among God’s people (Judges 8:1-3).  In his battle cry, it is the Lord who comes first, then Gideon: “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” (Judges 7:20).  He even rejects an opportunity to become Israel’s king, reminding the people that their salvation and honor rests with God alone: “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you.  The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:23).

Yes, God knows your weaknesses and failures even better than you yourself do, and yet in His mercy He still greets you in the same way as He greeted Gideon: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12).  Just as God whittled Gideon’s army of 32,000 men down to a measly 300 so that no one would doubt that it was God to whom the victory belonged; even so, God will display your weakness and unworthiness so that the world may know that you are saved by His perfection and not your own.

God is sending you today, only “in the strength you have” because His strength is more than sufficient for the task.  “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).  What an awesome God we serve who allows even spiritual wastrels like us to become mighty warriors and heroes of faith!

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:29)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for choosing me, an unworthy sinner, to be Your warrior and champion!  Guide and direct my paths, that all my actions will please and honor You.  Give me a humble heart, and use my weakness to bring glory to You and to the great victory You have achieved through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Caleb – A Fearless Warrior

“Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up.  Their protection is gone, but he Lord is with us.  Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:9)

One of the ongoing themes in this devotional series is the fact that no matter how great our spiritual victories and accomplishments may seem, we must always realize that it is the Lord’s hand at work in our lives, not our own strength.  God gives His warriors strength to win their battles for two reasons: because He loves and cares about our well-being, and because doing so brings honor and glory to Himself (something that aids the spread of His Gospel, bringing others to repentance and salvation, bringing us back to the first reason yet again…).  God does not give anything to us for the purpose of inflating our own self-conceit.  God’s purposes always move toward bringing people closer to Him.  Displaying a trust in self rather than in Him takes us and others further away from God.

At a time when his fellow scouts were proclaiming doom and gloom about the inhabitants of the Promised Land to which God had led His people, Caleb remained confident of victory.  He knew that their strength lay not in their own numbers or size or weaponry, but in the promise and protection of God Almighty.  He reminded his comrades that no matter how fearsome the enemy, God is greater by far.  And he also pointed out that courage in the face of hardship and trouble isn’t just a mental health exercise, or a positive thinking tactic, or some other “feel-good” approach to life; it was a command given to them by the Lord Himself, and to disobey meant open rebellion.

God takes our well-being very seriously – especially our spiritual well-being.  He’s not about to sit idly by while we get into a habit of fear and doubt regarding His promises to us.  After all, those promises are the foundation of our life and salvation.  If I doubt that God will give me strength to bear my trials and burdens in life, or grace to fight bravely against the darkness of this world, what will stop me from doubting His promise to forgive and redeem me?

Like all commands, we as sinners often break God’s orders to act with faith and courage in our lives.  Thanks be to God that He is faithful even when we are not: “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).  Though we fail to trust many of the wonderful promises that God makes to us – for strength in adversity, for courage in hardship, for help in time of temptation – the one promise that we mustn’t doubt is the central theme of the entire Bible: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me strength and courage in all of life’s trials and temptations.  Give me grace to glorify You before men for the victories unto which You lead me.  But most of all, keep my faith steadfast in Your promise of forgiveness, renewal, and eternal life through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Abel – A Humble Warrior

“The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering…” (Genesis 4:4)

Heroes of the faith are those people who, through the Lord’s strength, do great things for Him despite great challenges.  One such early hero is a man who generally receives little acclaim for anything other than being the victim of a heinous crime.  However, a deeper look into Abel and his life of faith reveals him as a true underdog who went on to set a wonderful example for God’s people.

Abel fits the “unlikely hero” theme quite well.  His very name means “temporary” or “meaningless.”  His parents, Adam and Eve, obviously didn’t have real high expectations for him.  They looked to his older brother to be the strong, faithful one in the family – possibly even believing Cain to be the promised Messiah who would restore their broken relationship with God.  And yet, the Bible tells us that Abel continued to love and to serve God faithfully.  Sometimes we find that God arms His warriors against the sin of spiritual pride in unexpected – and even painful – ways.  But the end result is an ability to serve with humility and a closer relationship with our Lord.

Abel must have grown up in difficult times.  He was raised in a world that was freshly tainted by sin, on an Earth which grudgingly provided a living through the toil and sweat of those who worked the ground.  He did not get to experience the paradise of Eden, nor the face to face relationship with God.  He did not hear the promise of a Savior from sin and death, and yet he believed – his faith being evidenced by the fruit of good works.  Jesus’ words to his disciple thousands of years later apply to Abel; “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).  Jesus likewise commends His faithful warriors today who, unseeing, still trust His promises in the midst of spiritual struggles.

Abel fought valiantly in the face of darkness.  Despite the scorn and shame poured upon him, even by his own family, he remained true and faithful to the God whom he adored.  He endured a brother’s jealousy and hatred, never compromising his beliefs or practices to pacify the unbelief of another.  His death was nothing less than a martyrdom for the sake of the first Gospel promise.  It was the result of an attack stemming from his thankfulness to a loving God who would redeem him.  May God grant us all the steadfast courage and wisdom to stand firmly in the face of those who scorn His promise of life and salvation!

“And I – in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.” (Psalm 17:15)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank you for the example of Your humble servant Abel.  Teach me to endure the scorn and shame of the world, remaining steadfast in my bold proclamation of love for You – and of Your love for me.  Help me always to point others to Your promised Messiah, who lives and reigns with You in glory.  Amen.